A systematic analysis of the social work, its philosophy,
values and principles can only be understood after a
proper reference and attempt is made to understand
the concept of social work and its evolution in India.
This should encompass various perceptions and
viewpoints with regard to its growth and development.
The social work profession is primarily committed to
solidarity with marginalized sections of society. The
basic human rights are very often violated for people,
who lack economic, physical, mental social and/or
emotional resources. Lack of resources leads to
powerlessness and thereby marginalization of people
by the social, economic and political systems.
Marginalized people are vulnerable to deprivation and
exploitation by those who have control over resources.
Thus, this profession recognizes that marginalized
people need to be empowered so that they themselves
play a decisive role for their development and welfare.
Empowerment is the process of gaining control over
self as well as the resources, which determine power.
This process aims at reforming the nature and
direction of the systemic forces, which marginalizes
characteristic was doing or initiating welfare and
common good of all, the glimpses of which can be found
in folk tales and legends in old literary works, Smiritis
or Dhramsastras. The earliest mention to charity can
be obtained from Rigveda which encourages charity
by saying “May the one who gives shine most”. The
Arthasastras, ascribed to Kautilya is one of the oldest
works in polity- that refers to the construction work
for public good by joint efforts of villagers. It also
mentions social work as care of children, old or invalid
in case of no protectors. Special regulations were
established for persons living in cities for common good.
Collective charity was popular form of social work, of
which progress of education or Vidyadana was an
important one as one of the numerous Jatakas reflect.
Other Upanashidas like Brihadarnayaka, Chhandogya
and Taittiriya prescribes that every householder must
Next to education, reference may be made to religion,
which took precedence over everything else to the
people of ancient India. One of the popular methods of
performing social activities, hence was Yagnas. The
main aim of yagnas was the common welfare of all,
devoid of any personal benefit or profit. There were
several Yagnashalas, which were like classrooms
wherein students were instilled with the feeling of
working without the egocentric desires. This learning
and spirit transcended to the home, workplace and in
the ordinary community life. The community was urged
to move ahead as one entity and achieve progress.
According to Geeta privileged sections must strive
towards the fulfilment of its duty to serve the poor,
handicapped and underprivileged.
The communitarian structure of early Vedic period
functioned like an extended family, where everybody
Social Reform in Medieval Period (1206-1706)
The approach followed while mentioning the social
reform activities during the medieval period would be
to focus not on individual kings and their achievements
but to the extent of their contribution to changes in
social institutions and structure. The Muslim Sultanate
who formed a significant phase of the medieval period
were motivated and driven by the same spirit of social
service in the fields of religion and education. The
practical needs of consolidating conquered territory and
providing efficient administration in a foreign country
necessitated the delineation of the role and functions
of the kings. These duties included maintenance of
peace, protection from external forces, levying of taxes
and providing justice to subjects. Beyond these limited
secular functions, the rulers took little interest in
promoting the general welfare of the masses. The
religion enjoined upon the Muslims to render help to
the underprivileged by the payment of Zakat, “the
annual legal alms of five things, namely money, cattle,
grain, fruit and merchandise”. Provision of drinking
water, building of mosques, provision of sarais, charity
to poor was regarded as pious act.
Humayun was the pioneer amongst the Muslim rulers
to make the efforts to prohibit Sati system. Akbar was
an illustrious ruler who took initiatives in bringing
reforms in Indian society by abolishing slavery in 1583.
He introduced equality among people irrespective of
class and religion, and established comprehensive
system of poor relief which was of two types: granting
relief in cash/kind to every needy person who made
requests for the same and the other was systematic
and organized assistance provided regularly.
Ram Krishna Mission, Indian Social Conference,
Servants of India Society etc.
However, this social reform movement confined to
small elitist segment of the population mostly
consisting of English speaking middle class. But with
the advent of Gandhiji on the scene, the entire social
reform and political independence movement took a
turn. Significantly, Gandhiji linked political movement
with the social movement and transformed this into a
mass movement with the participation of all sections
of population notably women and peasants and lower
The establishment of the first school of social work,
Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work,
Bombay in 1936 marks a watershed in training and
education of social work profession. Subsequently,
several institutes of social work were established in
various parts of the country.
After independence, the government shifted towards
the welfare approach and took several areas of social
work under its purview. The popularity of ideas of
social change, social development, institutional change
and programmes of family planning, elimination of mass
poverty and reduction of income gaps among the
population reflect the direction of social orientation
towards seeking and striving to achieve the goals.